Friday, November 6, 2009

Water water everywhere! A day of contrasts.

The Wasserstrassenkruez or Water Bridge just outside Madgeburg in Germany sent the email world into hoax spins a few years ago when people queried the legitimacey of the photos that were being circulated. But now, as then, this is very definitely a real resource.

It compares with the Falkirk Wheel that we saw earlier this year in Scotland in terms of ingenuity and actually performs almost the same function - well, they both serve to minimise the number of locks on their water courses and to transport ships and boats far more cost effectively than the alternatives! We had been through here once before in August (on our way to Paris to collect Helen) and although we could see it above us, we were obviously in the wrong spot as we could not find our way through the huge fence. With directions from the staff at the Hotel Sachsen Anault though we find it easily from Barleben near Madgeburg. As we drive towards the River Elbe on the motorway we can see the canal (although it doesn't really look any different to another bridge of sorts) from afar.

We begin our look at this engineering marvel at the lock system that allows boats to enter and leave the canal. As the height of the canal is much higher than the previous waters, a complex system of holding ponds was created so that the water would not need to be taken from a diminshing source. There are three locks side by side and the width of the canal would easily allow two good size boats to slip by side by side very easily.

It is a truly impressive system and I only wish that there was some way that I could get in to one of the towers so that I could get a better photo of one of the paths of water flowing over the top of the other! There are plenty of photos that you can seek out elsewhere and todayis not the best of days with only one barge travelling on the canal while we are there. Not like the plethora of boats that many photos show! In the autumn chill of 6 degrees, this is one lonely place today!

We had read a little about Magdeburg Cathedral while I was researching the Water Bridge and so once we have had our fill there, we head into the centre of the City. As soon as we reach the outskirts we start to see the dichotomy of this city where the new sits proudly alongside the old, without conflict, but more with a 'what the ???' While much of the civic architecture is old, much of the housing is new. Apartments blocks sure, but at least with an effort to make it interesting with blocks of colour and great public art.

But our time here is limited as we have to drive to Wuppertal and it will take us over 3 hours. With Kate programmed for the city centre, we manage to find a parking spot (thank you Frances) in the Cathedral Square! It is a truly impressive gothic building whose towers can be seen for miles away. In fact we could see them from the motorway long before we got anywhere near the city. This Cathedral has a very interesting past - read about it here. Today it is quite an austere in first glance, but if you take a seat and quietly look around, special discrete items come to your eye. Like the ornate tomb that lies in Mary Anne's Altar in the Ernst Chapel, like the restored choir seats with their faces and scenes relating to earlier occpiers on their misericords, like the Green man and the Tree of Life - one old, one new, tying the 800 years of history relating to this church together. There is a beautiful Pieta and the tomb of King Otto I. And that is just inside. Outside is another story altogether!

The current Cathedral was built after the first cathedral burned down in the early 13th century. This one is much larger and grander. But unlike other gothic churches, there are no external buttresses supporting the walls of this church. The outside is filled with the most fantastic examples of gargoyles, grotesques and agonys. These characters take the forms of animals and people in the most wonderful poses. And then there are the finials and crenellations and parapets and quoins. Aren't they a wonderful mouthful of words - watch out my Scrabble mates, I might just use them! If you need any explanation look here.

Oh, but Magdeburg is more, so much more. It was the cross-roads of the old Roman northern and southern routes, so there are ruins of former roman settlements including statues found in niches that line the oldest garden in the city. Nearby stands the remnants of the former City walls. In the main square, the Markt, lies the outline of the former cathedral that was only discovered in recent times. At the edge of the square there is brass model of the inner city area showing the old cathedral and the new one with all the related church buildings and the other city churches as well as major civic buildings. I always love these reliefs, they visually set the place up so that you can see the relationship between them all.

Surrounding the other sides of the Markt Square are grand buildings that once formed part of the castle and today forms government offices and museums, and on the fourth side are two modern office buildings of a similar height. They are striking and coloured in shades of blues and purples, yet they blend in beautifully in the autumn air. They aslo provide a link to another striking building.

Here in Magdeburg there is another of the stunning
Hundertwasser houses. This one is known as "Die Grüne Zitadelle" or The Green Citadel of Magdeburg, a large, pink building of modern architecture completed in 2005. We had hoped that we might get to see it while we are here and low and behold, there it is, peeking out from behind the earlier grand structures, just off the Markt Square. A composite structure, it houses commercial spaces, offices, a hotel and apartments.

Weaving arcades with undulating floors connect a series of inner courtyards with columned colonnades that look more mexican than anything that you would expect here. We can't resist a visit to the public toilets and are not disappointed there either - although at €1 a visit they certainly are the most expensive! There are some shops that really belong here with truly funky items and I manage to buy a few 'souvenirs' of our visit to take home. This adds to the rather small lot of mementos that we have bought!

Later than we had originally planned, we finally left Magdeburg at 3 pm. The drive over to Wuppertal was in and out of rain again. Germany is determined not to allow us to lift our mood as we leave her for the last time this trip. Wuppertal is definitely a working city and our hotel - the Art Fabrik & Hotel reflects this. Once a factory building, this funky establishment appealed to us as soon as we saw it advertised. A series of artists has been involved in the design and layout and their works are all through the hotel, including the furniture of the restaurant.

Dinner is eaten in the hotel as it is raining yet again.
Minestrone - Michael
Special Fleischbällchen in Tomaten-reich (Special meatballs in rich tomato) Maria
Rolled Seezungenfilet gefüllt mit Krabben in Hummer-Soße mit Reis und Gemüse (Rolled fillet of sole stuffed with prawns in a lobster sauce with rice and vegetables) Michael
Scallopine in Weißweinsauce mit der Hand geschnittene Kartoffeln und Gemüse (Scallopine in white wine sauce with hand cut potatoes and vegetables) Maria
Dessert: we both have the Creme Caramel that is served with a vanilla custard and chocolate sauce - very nice.

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